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Monumental 1802 Boydell Illustrated Shakespeare

13. SHAKESPEARE, William.

The Dramatic Works.

London, 1802. Nine volumes. Large thick folio

(13½ by 17 inches), contemporary full plum straight-grain morocco gilt.

$17,500

19

The monumental 1802 Boydell-Steevens edi-

tion of Shakespeare’s Works, complete with

two engraved frontispieces and the full com-

plement of 94 fine full-page copper engravings

after paintings by the leading English artists of

the time, sumptuously bound.

The Merchant of

Venice has been banned at various places in

the U.S. and elsewhere in the 20th century due

to objections to the character of Shylock being

an anti-Semitic stereotype. King Lear was pro-

hibited from 1788 to 1820 probably due to King

George’s insanity;

two major London produc-

tions were staged within three months of the

king’s death.

Richard II has perhaps the most

complex history of censorship: Many theater

scholars state that Elizabeth I, having faced an

attempted coup by the Earl of Essex, recognized

herself in the play (“I am Richard II; know ye

not that?”) resulting in the scrubbing of certain

scenes for the remainder of her lifetime, while a

1680 adaptation of Richard II by Nahum Tate

was suppressed for its perceived political impli-

cations and criticism of the ruling Stuart fam-

ily,

despite Tate’s attempts to mask his version

by giving it a new title and a foreign setting.

“Boydell’s gallery completely altered the

course of English painting. Most painters

earned their livings by painting portraits

for the wealthy nobility, but when Boydell

began to commission works from the best

artists in England, they were free to explore

other topics and themes, drawn first from

Shakespeare’s plays, then from other writers,

and finally from the classics and English his-

tory” (Friedman, 2).”There can be no doubt

that Boydell’s Shakespeare… was the most

splendid of bibliophile editions undertaken

in the 18th-century or at any other time…

no Printing Press, which has hitherto exist-

ed, ever produced a work… so uniformly

beautiful” (Franklin, 47

48). Armorial book-

plate of 1st Baron Northbourne (1816

93),

who served in Parliament. Several endpapers

creased, a few minor rubs with some color

restoration only to lovely morocco-gilt bind-

ings. A splendidly bound, quite clean and

wide-margined set of this beautifully illus-

trated work.